Parliamentary procedure is the body of rules, ethics, and customs governing meetings and other operations of clubs,organizations, legislative bodies, and other deliberative assemblies. It is part of the common law originating primarily in the practices of the House of Commons of the Parliament of the United Kingdom, from which it derives its name.
In the United States, parliamentary procedure is also referred to as parliamentary law, parliamentary practice, legislative procedure, or rules of order. In the United Kingdom, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, and other English-speaking countries it is often called chairmanship, chairing, the law of meetings, procedure at meetings, or the conduct of meetings.
At its heart is the rule of the majority with respect for the minority. Its object is to allow deliberation upon questions of interest to the organization and to arrive at the sense or the will of the assembly upon these questions. Self-governing organizations follow parliamentary procedure to debate and reach group decisions—usually by vote—with the least possible friction.
Rules of order consist of rules written by the body itself (often referred to as bylaws), but also usually supplemented by a published parliamentary authority adopted by the body. Typically, national, state, and other full-scale legislative assemblies have extensive internally written rules of order, whereas non-legislative bodies write and adopt a limited set of specific rules as the need arises.
In the English-speaking world, the British House of Commons is the originating source for most rules of order. These rules have evolved into two separate sets: American parliamentary procedure as generally followed in the United States; and Westminster parliamentary procedure, followed in Commonwealth countries (except for Canada, which uses a home-grown version) such as United Kingdom, Australia, New Zealand, India, South Africa, and many other Commonwealth countries. Various attempts have been made to codify the US variant, and the most common version in use is Robert’s Rules of Order Newly Revised. In Canada, Parliament uses Bourinot’s Rules of Order.
Parliamentary procedure is based on the principles of allowing the majority to make decisions effectively and efficiently (majority rule), while ensuring fairness towards the minority and giving each member or delegate the right to voice an opinion. Voting determines the will of the assembly. While each assembly may create their own set of rules, these sets tend to be more alike than different. A common practice is to adopt a standard reference book on parliamentary procedure and modify it through special rules of order that supersede the adopted authority.
A parliamentary structure conducts business through motions, which cause actions. Members bring business before the assembly by introducing main motions, or dispose of this business through subsidiary motions and incidental motions. Parliamentary procedure also allows for rules in regards to nomination, voting, disciplinary action, appeals, dues, and the drafting of organization charters, constitutions, and bylaws.